Two teams that had scored a combined 20 points the past two weeks – and had come into the night each 0-5 overall – exploded for 65 points Thursday at Richard R. Flores Stadium. North put 41 of those on the board, allowing 24 to the visiting Chiefs of Donna North and the long wait for a victory is over for the Cougars and their faithful.
The Homecoming win was impressive in many respects as North (1-1 in 31-6A, 1-5 overall) stormed to a 28-0 lead before the Chiefs began to claw their way back. The Coogs ran the ball well, got their talented wide receivers involved with regularity, and served notice that when they get it right, they can be dangerous.
But they also fumbled away two onside kicks in the second half and allowed Donna North, averaging less than 100 yards per game on offense through the first half of the season, to gain a healthy 322 Thursday. This included 214 passing yards, marking the fourth time the D has been torched for 200-plus aerial yards in six starts. There was time there when people started to wonder if a big lead was going to melt away. It did not.
So, a win is a win and for a club that has struggled to be consistent for four quarters so far in 2019, the feeling was awesome.
“Psychologically, emotionally, yes, totally important for us tonight,” said second-year coach Damian Gonzalez, whose team now looks to a showdown with old foe EHS this week. “The kids have been working hard this year, since last year ended really, and they needed to walk off the field winners. I told them they had to take care of business this week, not look forward to what was coming the next week. If we didn’t win tonight there is no next week, basically.”
North came out on fire with 21 points in the first period, thanks to a 40-yard bomb from Michael Rodriguez to Sergio Quintanilla (four catches, 78 yards) early on, and then the first of four touchdowns from senior back Jacob Peralez, who rumbled for a season-high 158 yards on 28 carries. His 6-yard burst capped a 90-yard drive for a 14-0 lead at 1:56 of the first, after Rodriguez (excellent Thursday with 13 for 16, 171 yards) had found Ricky Garza for a first down on a third-and-nine snap.
The Chiefs fumbled it away to rangy end Raul Gonzalez after that, and North steamed in for a 21-0 lead with 0:28 left in the opening barrage of a quarter, on Peralez’ 4-yard run.
Though the Chiefs moved the ball at times in the half, North just kept cranking, and soon led 28-0 when Peralez barged in from the 4 at 6:05 of the second. The visitor took advantage of a missed tackle on the perimeter – a North weak spot all season – to complete a 58-yard catch-and-run score down the left sideline, and later drove to a field goal miss in the waning seconds of the half.
The momentum rested with the Chiefs heading into the half, and they came out in the third and drove resolutely downfield, 13 plays worth, reaching the Coog 7 before settling for a field goal that made it 28-10. Linebacker J.J. Rodriguez (a mammoth night with 14 tackles) had a big hand in the stand and continues to impress with his quickness, football IQ, and aggressive hitting.
Having held the Chiefs to three, the Coogs then failed to corral a pooch kickoff, and Donna North was in business in Coog territory. Luckily, Moises Maldonado, a godsend on D these days, came up with an interception to turn the upstarts away.
Then Peralez took over. The hard-running veteran carried seven times on a march that consumed 75 yards and lasted 12 plays. Rodriguez finished the comeback drive with a short ball to Brandon Borrego, who raced in from the 23, breaking a tackle and dragging a defender into the end zone with him at 10:38 of the fourth.
That score came in handy because the Chiefs then produced two touchdowns of their own, benefiting from another muffed kickoff return to set up one and from a pass interference call on North to ease the other. Eee, 35-24 … but then, cometh the hour, cometh Peralez.
The Coogs finally found a charm on the third onside pooch try and the senior runner took it from there with six straight rushes into the line, which tallied total 42 yards, 19 on the final rush for a 41-24 count with 2:24 to go.
Gonzalez was all smiles about the fine night of toil from his feature back, who now has 466 yards in six games.
“We told him before the game that he was going to get the ball a lot, that he had to be the workhorse,” said the coach. “I think Jacob was ready to go, and the offensive line did a better job tonight. They opened up some big holes and they kept pressure off our quarterback too. Those guys all played together last year on JV and I think that they are starting to understand the concepts better, they are improving.”
The same can be said for the Coogs as an overall product. Though letting the Chiefs get 24 points – they had scored just 29 in five ball games coming in – they did put up a season high for points themselves. Miguel Contreras (five catches, 51 yards) is a threat to go with Borrego and Quintanilla and if Rodriguez can keep up his recent exploits behind the emerging line, this offense will be potent. Peralez is dependable, he will never back down, runs hard all night.
The going gets rougher from here, with EHS next followed by Weslaco East Oct. 17. But this team appears to be coming around, and though some folks will say, well, it’s only Donna North, the truth is, doesn’t matter. Walking off the field as winners, that’s what the Coogs needed, and they did that. Good for the soul, a win. And it don’t hurt in the standings, either. At 1-1, they’re in range, and a victory over the Bobcats would turn the entire season on its head, giving the slip to those naysayers who had been trying to bury the Blue and Gold prematurely.